The Muslim world has presently earned the dubious distinction of being the centre of religious extremism and intolerance. Armed militias dominate the political landscape of Muslim countries. Factional conflicts, sectarian violence, deficit of democracy and intolerance of dissent are ubiquitous. They prevent the Muslim countries from making any progress socially, economically, and politically. Moreover, they have torn to pieces the peaceful and compassionate image of Islam. This traumatic development in the Muslim countries is indeed most surprising because until 1979 most Muslim countries were marked for their moderate, liberal and tolerant form of Islam. Peace and tranquility prevailed in most of the countries. Saudi Arabia was the only country which pursued puritanical Islam and had imposed strict Shariah laws. This, however, did not disturb the peaceful environment prevailing in other Muslim countries.
It will be interesting to analyze the factors that led to the dramatic emergence of religious extremism in the Muslim World which radically transformed it into a violence prone society. An unbiased observation highlights the fact that it is a product of the rivalry during the cold war period (1945-1990), between the two super powers, the Soviet Union and the United States of America. They have been largely responsible for injecting the Muslim world with religious extremism and the culture of violence. Three case studies will substantiate this point. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979; the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and of Iraq in 2003; and American and NATO military intervention against Gaddafi in Libya in 2011 are notable political events which induced religious extremism and intolerance, sectarian violence and terrorism in Muslim countries.
The Soviet Union considered Afghanistan to be an integral part of its area of influence. Therefore, it took keen interest in its affairs. From 1955 it had provided military training and equipment to the Afghan army. By 1973 half of the Afghan army had been trained in the Soviet Union. It was also keen to install a communist type of government in Kabul. In pursuance of this objective it encouraged and helped the formation of People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) in 1965 based totally on communistic ideology owing allegiance to Moscow.
Noor Taraki became prime minister of Afghanistan in 1978 and was keen to rule Afghanistan on communistic lines. Further in March 1979 he signed a defense agreement with the Soviet Union which allowed it to intervene directly in the affairs of Afghanistan.
The Muslim tribes of Afghanistan revolted against the imposition of communistic rule. As the revolt spread rapidly and widely Moscow realized that Taraki would not be able to control the situation. He was executed and replaced by Babrek Karmal. Meanwhile, the Afghan resistance movement gained momentum and intensified. The Soviets decided to invade Afghanistan on Christmas Eve 1979 in order to occupy strategic points in Afghanistan, particularly Kabul. It was a massive movement of troops, more than 100,000, with lightning speed. They used a variety of weapons to facilitate the movement of ground troops and to kill as many Mujahidin guerillas as possible. Besides other lethal weapons they also dropped enhanced blast bombs and blockbuster bombs which when exploded sent out lethal shock waves in a large radius kill zone.
The American administration looked upon Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in a larger geo-political perspective. It considered it to be a part of the Soviet Union’s ‘warm water’ policy in order to control the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf region. A consortium of countries was formed including the USA, UK, China, and Saudi Arabia, to provide maximum financial and weapons’ aid to Mujahidin in order to bleed the Soviet Union. The Mujahidin also attracted Jihadists practically from all over the Muslim world because they considered Communism a great threat to Islam. A major programme of financial aid was utilised for the purchase of weapons and intensive training of the Mujahidin in guerilla warfare and use of modern weapons such as heavy machine guns, Kalashnikov assault rifles, shoulder fired stringer missiles, etc. The C.I.A. spent about 3 billion dollars in providing training and weapons to the Mujahidin to fight the Soviet forces. The Soviet forces eventually with drew in 1989 after incurring a loss of billions of dollars and lives of thousands of soldiers. By the time they withdrew they had shattered Afghanistan’s economy. After the end of the war the United States abandoned Afghanistan. It quietly stopped its financial aid when it was most needed and did not participate in rebuilding its devastated economy.
The United States committed a formidable disservice to Islam and irreparably damaged its image by preparing, printing and distributing widely literature on Islamic extremism, among the Mujahidin which included Pakistanis and foreigners. The Washington Post investigated and disclosed that for “the last 20 years, in order to motivate the Afghans and particularly the student community to launch jihad against the communist government in Afghanistan and against the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan to support the besieged Babrek Karmal regime, fed the Afghans with the jihadist, extremist and fundamentalist doctrines of Islam. Thus one whole generation was indoctrinated with the radical, fundamentalist ideology which is prone to fanaticism and violence”. The CIA spent $52 million on the production of this extremist literature. They were all produced at the Afghan Center of Nebraska University, Omaha.(Washington Post, March 23rd 2002, Joe Stephens and David B. Ottaway.) These books were reprinted and distributed, with a grant of $6.5 million to the University of Nebraska even after Mr. George W. Bush had taken over the Presidency in 2001. The UNICEF also printed and distributed this Jihadi literature after deleting some portions pertaining to violence. Even the Taliban liked them. They were included by the Taliban in the core curriculum of schools in Afghanistan. Thus the literature that was produced to evoke hatred against communists and bleed the Soviet Union has become a powerful tool in the struggle against the Americans and other western powers and to impose extremism on Muslim countries that follow moderate and liberal Islam
American Invasion of Afghanistan (October, 2001)
The Taliban inspired by the extremist literature produced by the Nebraska University launched a resistance movement against the American invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. They fought vigorously a guerrilla war with the American and NATO forces with the same weapons, using the same strategy, which the Americans had taught the Mujahidin to fight against the communist Soviet Union. The communists failed to subdue them despite their superior fire power and were forced to withdraw. This is precisely what happened with the American and NATO forces. After waging a 13 year long war they just could not subdue the Taliban despite their technologically advanced arsenal of weapons. They have also been forced to withdraw. The Taliban have emerged far more powerful. They have completely destabilized the Afghan government installed by the Americans.
Invasion of Iraq March 2003
The inspiring extremist Islamic literature produced by the Nebraska University was accessible to all the Mujahidin who had come to Afghanistan from across the Muslim world to fight against the Soviet Union. It inspired Muslim militant organizations against Western intervention in Muslim countries. Iraq provides the most tangible example of the rise of extremism and fanaticism inspired by the Nebraska University produced Jihadi literature. Saddam Hussein was a dictator who had totally crushed Islamic extremism. During his regime there was zero tolerance of dissent. Saddam, a Sunni, had brutally treated the Shias who dissented and had massacred them in thousands because most of the Shias had supported the communist oriented regime of Abdul Karim Kasim which was toppled by the Baath Party in a coup. Subsequently the situation was normalized and Sunni-Shia relations improved considerably. The Shias constitud the bulk of Iraq army fighting against Iran during 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war. –
At the instigation of Israel, George W. Bush, President of the United States decided to invade Iraq on March 23, 2003 on false and fabricated grounds that it was producing weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It was an act of blatant aggression and was deeply resented by all Iraqis. The American forces were treated as occupiers and resistance to their occupation commenced spontaneously and it aggravated considerably when Paul Bremmer, Administrator of Iraq, in May 2003 adopted a policy of ‘debathification’ of Iraqi army and administration. In one stroke he dismissed 5,000 Iraqis working as senior administrators. Further, 385,000 army personnel and 285,000 employees of the Ministry of Interior were thrown out of their jobs. Most of those dismissed went underground and joined the insurgents and the insurgency went crazy. Thus the invasion of Iraq unleashed the extremist forces, which were suppressed by Saddam Husain, with disastrous consequences for Iraq, the Middle East and for world peace.
Meanwhile, a large number of insurgent groups emerged but the most organized and powerful of them was Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia, led by the fanatic Masab Al-Zarqawi. It included a large number of foreign jihadists from across the world including many who had participated in the Afghan campaign against the Soviet Union. They also had the support of the dismissed Baathist army personnel who knew how to make bombs and land mines. They fought vigorously a guerilla war against the American and British forces. The Americans and the British were totally nonplussed and had no clue how to suppress insurgency.
By the end of 2006, insurgency was at its peak. The Americans had realized that they could not control it because Shias and Sunnis were united in acts of insurgency. In sheer desperation they conceived of a deplorable strategy to incite sectarian violence and maximize religious differences between Shias and Sunnis. They wanted to create bad blood between them and spoil their harmonious relations. They succeeded to a large extent. It was most visible in Baghdad where it assumed the shape of a civil war. However, this strategy did not in any way reduce the intensity of the insurgency. The extremist group of Al-Qaida Mesopotamia founded by Masab Al-Zarqavi, even after his death, continued to harass and kill the American soldiers who were completely demoralized and wanted to quit Iraq as early as possible. By the time the Americans decided to leave, the extremist Al-Qaida Mesopotamia had emerged-as the dominant Islamic militant group. Ironically “one of the great of the perversities of the so- called war on terror is that fundamentalist forces have flourished as a direct consequence of it” (Owen Jones: Guardian, London) Thus the major contribution of American Invasion of Iraq was to destroy its sectarian harmony, degrade and destroy its moderate and liberal Islam and promote Islamic extremism and fanaticism. (Refer: Manzoor Alam (2009): War on Terrorism or American or Strategy for Global Dominance pp 163-234)
Chaos and Extremism in Libya – NATO’S Role.
NATO’S intervention in Libya is a classic example where military action on humanitarian grounds transformed a country with sound law and order into a chaotic and disturbed society. Libya under Gaddafi was hell for radical and militant Islamists. He had not only controlled Islamic extremism but had almost crushed it. There was no justification what so ever for NATO’s intervention in Libyan affairs because Libya was neither supporting nor sponsoring terrorism. In fact, Gaddafi had voluntarily abandoned his nuclearisation programme and shipped all nuclear materials and equipment he had assembled to the United States. Further he was fully cooperating with the United States on counter terrorism because he was deeply worried about the rising tide of militant Islam in Libya.
A small section of Libya’s population, influenced by the Arab spring, had revolted against Gaddafi’s rule. He had almost succeeded in quelling their rebellion when his opponents started falsely propagating that he was committing genocide and blood bath. Without verifying the news, despite having a powerful spy network, the NATO powers, particularly the United States, went to the UN Security Council and got Resolution 1973 approved to impose a “No Flying Zone” in Libya and to protect civilian life. This mandate was unilaterally altered to regime change by President Obama. The rebels were in total retreat. Gaddafi’s forces were moving towards Benghazi, the last citadel of rebels in order to expel them from their last sanctuary. Meanwhile, a group of supporters of the rebels, in Switzerland, raised a hue and cry that there would be genocide and blood bath if Gaddafi’s forces were allowed to enter Benghazi. This was a false and fabricated news. According to Kuperman, Gaddafi only targeted the combatants. The civilian casualties were minimum. Nonetheless the western media exaggerated this false news. The NATO powers without checking the veracity of the news promptly started military action. France struck Gaddafi’s army moving toward Benghazi by air and halted its advance. The American Air Force struck Gaddafi’s convoy when it was moving out of Surte. Gaddafi was seriously wounded. He was captured by the rebels and mercilessly executed. Gaddafi’s forces could not enter Benghazi and the rebels returned. The peace and tranquility which Gaddafi had almost restored in Libya was totally shattered and replaced by absolute chaos. The NATO powers initiated this sordid action when his western educated younger son, Saiful Islam, was almost nominated to succeed Gaddafi. He was planning to initiate far reaching reforms in the political system of Libya. He is now rotting in jail. (Refer: Alan J Kuperman: Obama’s Libya Debacle). In his article “Libya the Disaster We Have Created”s, Owen Jones has rightly stated that “while many of these military interventions have left nations shattered, western governments have resembled the customer who walks away whistling, hoping no one has noticed the mess left behind.”(The Guardian, October 1, 2014)
The NATO powers after paralyzing the economy of Libya, destroying its infrastructure and devastating its administrative machinery quietly withdrew totally oblivious of the damage they had inflicted. It was their responsibility to control the chaotic situation there, restore law and order and peace and tranquility. Owen Jones pertinently points out that “No wonder western governments and journalists who hailed the success of this intervention are so silent. But here are the consequences of their war, and they must take responsibility for them”.
It may be noticed that after NATO’s and United States’ military intervention in Libya it has been overrun by armed militias, deteriorating human rights situation and mounting chaos. Gaddafi had crushed Islamic extremism which is now hyperactive. Libya is split into factions and violent factional conflicts have become an inherent part of its politics. It is governed by two governments which are dominated by two powerful militias, Zintan and Misrata. Even the ISIS has established a strong foothold in Surte and Derna where they enjoy popular support and cannot be dislodged easily. Libya is also exporting Islamic extremism and has helped the establishment of a large Islamic state in Mali. It is also exporting lethal and non- lethal weapons from the Gaddafi arsenal. If affairs in Libya are not adequately rectified it may emerge as the greatest menace to peace and political stability in North Africa and the Middle East. Despite all the devastation they have caused and the mayhem they have created, the United States and NATO still claim it as a “Model Intervention”. In fact, it is rather a “Bad Model” and a total debacle.
In conclusion it may be observed that American military interventions in Muslim countries have invariably left a legacy of Islamic extremism and fanaticism which are a grave threat to political stability in the Muslim countries and world peace.